martina braun
martina braun

DISORIENTATED AT 40 - what suddenly makes us so insecure and why we should withstand it!

Have you seen the movie "American Beauty"?

I have! I was just 18 years old when the movie was released.

Since the cinema was our escape from home back then, it didn't really matter which movie was shown, so we went to the small-town cinema with my girls.

So there we sat in the red velvet armchairs with a bag of popcorn on our laps and our faces glowed red as the protagonist Lester Burnham pleasured himself on the screen in the shower.

We were shaking inside when 42-year-old Lester fell in love with pubescent Angela, a girl about our age at the time. He was bitching at work, his family was getting on his nerves and he couldn't cope with himself.

The purchase of the red redneck car finished us off anyway.

After 121 minutes, we stumbled out of the cinema and agreed: "The movie was stupid and we need a pizza now"

Well, we teenagers thought that old people were always pretty embarrassing anyway, we were firmly convinced that we wouldn't be so stuffy at that age, and besides, it was still ages away anyway.

And Bahm - after what felt like two sleeps, I was 40 and in the same state of disorientation as Lester and could quite easily understand the one or other freak-out, sag and act of desperation.

I came to the realization that we teenagers didn't even begin to understand what this film was about and, above all, what makes a person do what Lester did in the film.

If this sounds familiar to you, then welcome to the midlife crisis club.

But what - midlife crisis? Not for me!

That only applies to men like Lester, who drive around with dark sunglasses and a cigar, the young blonde girlfriend in the passenger seat of the red Pontiac Firebird and the golf equipment in the trunk.


Then perhaps now is the time to drag the myths of the midlife crisis into the light of reality and give it some normality.

When it hit me, it would never have occurred to me that I was going through the much-vaunted midlife crisis here and now.

I wasn't a man, I wasn't yet in my 50s and I wasn't a top manager in any bank - so I was safe.

All the more reason for me to despair about what was bothering me at the time.

I suddenly didn't feel like my job anymore and was in a rut.

My partner could hardly do anything to please me because I was bored with our partnership and why bother?

All the people around me were just stupid and I was becoming a scraper.

I felt the need to turn everything in my life upside down, but I didn't know what to do, much less how.

I had everything and had no reason to be dissatisfied.

For a long time, I felt like a hand grenade that would explode at the slightest vibration. Regardless of losses.

That scared me, because I couldn't explain my condition and couldn't find a way out.

So let's take a closer look now so that you don't feel the same way. Let's go!


As the word midlife crisis suggests, it is a crisis in midlife and, according to broad consensus, midlife is between the ages of 40 and 60.

It is a crisis that follows no pattern, is not limited to one gender and takes no account of sensitivities and good intentions.

In this phase, we are professionally stable, have the family more or less under control and live in familiar structures.

But why does this structure suddenly cause us so much trouble?

Because we suddenly realize that we already have a large part of our lives behind us.

Even though we still feel like we did in our mid-20s.

We take stock of our lives and realize that we are running out of options. We've been doing the same job for years, we've been living in the same family structure for years and we spend our vacations in the same place every year.

We realize what we have NOT done in recent years for this job, this family and the annual vacation that now seems so pointless.

The things that made us happy in recent years, or at least didn't bother us, become a burden. We feel disoriented and this confuses us after the past few years have always been so clear.

There are typical issues and changes in our mid-life that can become a real trouble spot:

Our body no longer looks the same as it did when we were 20

We and those around us slowly become aware of the physical changes and realize that we are ageing. Our skin is no longer as firm, we are increasingly considering taking the elevator instead of the stairs and compared to our younger work colleagues, it takes us twice as long to even understand the latest social media trend, let alone find it funny.

Incidentally, this is the same for all genders and is no longer just a women's issue these days.

We are at funerals more often than weddings

There comes a time when we are confronted with loss. The death of our parents, aunts and uncles draws ever closer and we realize that it will be our turn at some point.

Hopefully not so soon, but we are starting to think more often in terms of "years until retirement" rather than "years since leaving school".

the ACTUAL does not match the TARGET

The wishes and dreams of young people are compared with reality and reality usually comes off lousy.

Did we really want the boring office job, the terraced house in the suburbs and the Thermomix in the kitchen cupboard? What happened to our Broadway career and our life in a commune?

This realization makes us sad or even bitter. Sometimes we start running after the target again.

We want to be who we really are

In our phase of disorientation, we come to the conclusion that our behavior over the past few years does not reflect our true self.

We were "made" this way by external circumstances and had no other choice. We swap the existing gender role orientation for what seems liberating to us at the time.

This includes not only our behavior, but sometimes also our sexual and gender-specific orientation.

Realism makes its entrance

By the time we are 40, we have already been through one difficult situation or another and have had to realize that life is not as rosy as we thought it would be as children or teenagers.

Our parents are not responsible for our safety forever, family salvation is not automatically guaranteed and eternal love is rather unlikely.

Family sucks

The children become independent, move out and no longer need or want our support. Our partner suddenly has new interests and only looks after themselves and our parents need more and more support.

We have the feeling that our own needs are not being met and we feel neglected or even exploited.


Sometimes we carry this disorientation around with us for a few years. In some cases, this disorientation has to lead to burnout or other physical or social effects before we take a closer look.

Some of you may be familiar with Maslow's pyramid of needs.

The top two levels of needs, transcendence and self-actualization, are our drivers. Maslow calls these two levels growth needs, which remain insatiable throughout our lives.

We are therefore constantly searching.

This search can create a feeling of inner emptiness and a crisis of meaning can arise. We have the feeling that we are not getting anywhere and that there is no change for the better.

Disorientation is followed by a phase of reorientation. It is not uncommon for clients to report a feeling as if they have to shed their old skin in order to leave everything behind and reinvent themselves.

Some philosophers formulate this in a similar way; they see this phase as the urge to create one's own second existence. If we don't do this, we lose the meaning of life and become dissatisfied.


Very good question!

None of us is keen on a crisis and our behavior of choice is usually to ignore or sit it out. But if we want to move forward, here's what we should do:

Come to terms with your previous and future life plans

A crisis of meaning doesn't have to take on dramatic proportions, but it can be quite a preoccupation.

Due to external circumstances or of our own volition, we come to terms with our past and future life circumstances. We work out our life biography.

This includes not only our working life, but also all our interpersonal relationships, our previous dreams and wishes, our moments of happiness and all the difficult moments.

During this phase, it is not uncommon to have the feeling that you have not been in control of your own life, but that you have been lived.

Our life biography often shows us how much we have decided and influenced ourselves.

But the redefinition of our own identity must also find its place here. What do I still want to experience? What is still in me and can I live it?

Enduring uncertainty and discomfort

Coming to terms with our previous life can feel pretty shitty at first. In the phase of disorientation, looking back on our past life can seem completely pointless and wasted.

But working out our vision of the future is not necessarily easy either. As already mentioned, we realize that our options are becoming fewer and fewer, and we may already have to say goodbye to some life plans.

This confrontation can make us sad and we feel as if we are forever trapped in a straitjacket and missing out on our lives.

But this confrontation is absolutely necessary. There is no shortcut, we have to go through it! We have to endure the discomfort and uncertainty.

An understanding environment and, above all, our own attitude can help. Are we prepared to make changes, to embark on new and unfamiliar paths and dare to make a fresh start?

At this point, supportive coaching is definitely worthwhile in order to work out the various options and strengthen our own readiness.

Strengthening self-efficacy

We can influence our lives and our happiness through our thoughts and actions. This realization sometimes gets lost in the heat of the moment and we need to be reminded of it again.

Self-efficacy means that we are convinced that we can overcome obstacles through our own actions and actively influence our lives.

And we can strengthen our self-efficacy at any time by setting and pursuing goals. On the way to achieving our goals, we learn what and how our actions influence our path - and whether we like the direction or not.

We learn to change direction on our own without having to ask others for permission.


A midlife crisis is therefore anything but unusual. Not everyone hits it in their 40s, but it is not at all abnormal to struggle with one's past and future life at this stage of life.

Even if this crisis can make life really stressful for a while, it is worth taking a closer look. Because there is enormous potential in this phase and it doesn't necessarily mean that we have to turn our whole life upside down.

Incidentally, the good news about this whole topic is that our satisfaction increases again at around the age of 47. Of course, this depends on what we have learned from our crisis and what adjustments we have made during this time.

During my crisis, I was helped a lot by my coach, who accompanied me on my journey. She showed me the limits that I had set for myself and showed me the way beyond the glass ceiling.

Are you currently going through a life crisis or have you perhaps already overcome it?

Tell me about your feelings and strategies during this phase.

I look forward to your comments!